When we walk up the steps of Harvard's newest towering edifice, it's clear that everyone is highly aware that "this event will be filmed and photographed." The attendees are slinky and aggressive. Cheek-kissers. Quiet patter-clappers. My friend and I lose count after about 12 tight black turtlenecks.
We are not at a gallery in New York. We are at the student opening of the newly renovated Harvard Art Museums. Whoever is in charge of the event has gone all out. An art museum employee clips on a cleverly crafted paper bow adorned with Harvard H's as we enter. Swirly dance music pulses. I ask a caterer what the vision was for the event.
"This is like a bar mitzvah on crack," she says. She's holding a bounteous tray of tomato basil mozzarella "tartlets," which are quickly scooped up by cruising amateur patrons of the beaux arts. The crowd is directed downstairs towards a coat check and, promisingly, "free drinks."
The drinks are non-alcoholic, but nobody seems to mind. Suited bartenders make the mocktails to order. They're standing behind a bar stacked ceiling-tall with illuminated pickle jars filled with riotously colored, surely noxious liquid. I order a "prickly pear lemonade," and sip on a foot-tall pink beverage. My friend gets a uranium-green ginger limeade, and we sashay out to mix and mingle.
The crowd flows up the stairs to the sheer glassed cloister-cum-atrium-cum-dance floor. As with all Harvard events of this scale, the music cuts and the head student tour guide walks onstage to deliver "a few remarks before you get back to the fun."
Thomas W. Lentz, the director of Harvard Art Museums, does his best to reel in the crowd after a student introduction.
"Nothing says party like a few words from the art museum director," he says.
Our companions at the event, ever artily blasé, politely smirk and applaud. Everyone keeps whispering.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana steps on stage and, as always, delivers a mixed message about the space's "reflective role," and impactful changes to the "real lives of students."
A boy walks in to join a group standing behind me. There's lots of cheek kissing. His friend whispers, "Why are you here?"
"I feel like I should love art, you know. I mean, I have a Tumblr," he responds, before making a beeline for the macadamia nut encrusted chicken fingers.
As soon as Dean Khurana concludes exhorting the values of the liberal arts, DJ duo AndrewAndrew of "Girls" fame takes over. The two are a performance art piece unto themselves. They refuse to identify anything about their pre-collective Andrew identity. Their friends and family are rumored to have signed lengthy non-disclosures. They're dressed identically, down to glasses and cufflinks. My friend goes up later so we can grab a picture with them. When she approaches, they unbutton their shirts. They're wearing matching undershirts, emblazoned with a crimson Veritas.
Their advice? "Stay in school. It's like so worth it. And look at the art."
We do. As we walk up the stairs, a strident harp trio starts plucking. The three women are fixated on their conductor. They vengefully, viciously pluck and pull. An exhausted looking male dressed like the Platonic ideal of a Barker Center TF (corduroy jacket, Moleskine, etc.) walks down the stairs. He's had enough.
"I'm incredibly weary of the Baroque."
We aren't yet, and keep walking. The gallery space is almost impossibly capacious. Six floors, dozens of guides and guards, even a "Marguerite Steed Hoffman Reception Area." The "area" consists of a clearly visible desk.
We check out the Western classics, from Rothko to Renoir, before heading to the Islamic art gallery. It's quieter, more studious. A girl with Cleopatra eye makeup is holding court for two of her friends in front of a beautiful Persian miniature.
"Check it out. In the Islamic world, the atelier is incredibly rarified," she philosophizes. Her comrades nod along, no doubt perplexed, but with the smug transcendent air of a Zen master who can hold a koan fully in his head.
My friend talks about print culture with people from her VES class. I speak in French to a friend about a Cezanne. It feels like an elaborately staged caricature of the Harvard "creative people" world.
There are a few individuals clinging to the outside. A girl walks around handing out fliers.
"Oh my god. Check it out. This is the app me and my boyfriend are gonna drop out for."
A nervous-looking bunch in suits cluster around an iPhone.
"They don't understand parliamentary procedure. And they're trying to run the IOP."
Before we know it, it's time to walk back down to coat check. There's a 20 minute line. We double down on mocktails and chatter about a wall-sized series of black lines being continuously sprayed on by a robotic arm. A Harvard Art Museums employee silently and expertly swoops in with help.
"This is a site-specific installation piece. It's being constructed as we watch." She points at home alarm style sensors. "Your movements are triggering the paint. You're just as much the artist here, is what the artist is trying to say."
Before we finish our mocktails, we stand in the atrium and, like so many others around us, take a selfie. Straight to Instagram. "Not art," my friend sighs, and we walk out into the rain.